The Obama administration revealed tonight that it ordered a U.S. military operation in Syria earlier this year to attempt to rescue James Foley, the American journalist whose beheading was broadcast yesterday by the Islamic State, and other American hostages.
The raid was conducted by a range of U.S. Special Operations forces, including the elite specially equipped helicopter force, the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, that transported U.S. soldiers into Pakistan in 2011 to kill Osama bin Laden. It was based on information gleaned from Western hostages who had been released by the Islamic State, bit when the task force reached its destination, there were no American hostages present. One U.S. soldier was wounded in the raid.
It’s believed that the Islamic State has a number of Western hostages — it took two Italian citizens, a Dane, and a Japanese citizen captive in Iraq today — and in the video released yesterday, the group showed American journalist Steven Sotloff, claiming they would kill him if the U.S. didn’t halt its intervention in Iraq. According to Bill Roggio of Long War Journal, the U.S. government believes the Islamic State has at least three other American hostages besides Sotloff.
A not-insubstantial amount of the Islamic State’s funding, like that of other al-Qaeda offshoots, has come from multimillion-dollar ransoms paid by Western governments to secure the release of citizens held hostage. The U.S. doesn’t do this. As Middle East scholar and U.S. Army veteran Andrew Exum put it on Twitter:
James Foley’s main employer, the Global Post, said today it received a message last week saying he was about to be executed. British and American intelligence are currently trying to determine anything they can about the masked men in the video — a jihadist who speaks has a British accent.